Homeless advocates in Boise have announced plans to build a tent city to feed and shelter homeless populations this winter after learning of a rising rate of fatalities among that population.
Planning for the facility began last Wednesday when members from Idaho's Interfaith Alliance agreed community resources couldn't handle the roughly 3,000 people without shelter this winter. "We went to the mayor's office the next day to inform his staff of our concern of this crisis and ask for a response," said Will Rainford of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.
On Saturday, about 50 citizens from at least 15 churches and other local organizations, including the Idaho Foodbank, the Boise Rescue Mission and El-Ada, met at Saint Mark's in Boise for eight hours to brainstorm ideas to feed and house the homeless.
Meetings continued each day afterward to continue planning of what has been dubbed "The Sanctuary." As of press time, BW had learned the group narrowed down their list of five potential sites to one, which has already been secured.
Alliance director Pam Baldwin said she couldn't disclose this location because it hasn't been finalized. "We'd rather talk to the people around that area before they read it in the paper so there won't be a negative response," she said.
Next, the group will ask the Governor's Office to allow them to use tents from the Idaho National Guard. Rainford said these tents, similar to barracks, are equipped with heating units, showers, toilets and cots. He said the group hopes to have three tents--two will shelter about 50 people each and the other will serve food. Members of the Hare Krishna temple in Boise have offered to prepare and serve an estimated 200 daily meals, Rainford said, but several churches are prepared to step up and provide additional food if needed.
Meanwhile, he said the interfaith group is working with the Mayor's Office to ensure the several ordinances regulating this type of temporary facility are met. "The city's main role is to help us with ordinances we need to abide by--health ordinances and safety standards and so forth." He met with representatives of Mayor Bieter's office on Monday to secure emergency permits allowing the community to operate if it can come up to compliance with some stipulations.
"We're starting so quickly, there isn't time to make sure we're meeting every one of the ordinances," he said. The group, quick to assert its secular affiliations, hopes this temporary solution of caring for the homeless for 120 days this winter can evolve into finding a more permanent facility.
"We're trying to respond to an emergency situation, just as people would react in a flood or hurricane," said the Rev. Susan Watterson of the First Congregational United Church of Christ. "We should not be in this place next winter. We're working to help the city come up with a plan so that by next winter, we will have something in place for the homeless, even just a place for them to eat."
"This is a great learning experience for the community because there are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless," Baldwin said.